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NEWS STORY: Vatican Issues Guidelines on Communion `Abuses,’ Implies Kerry Unworthy

c. 2004 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ The Vatican’s highest authority on worship and the sacraments, issuing comprehensive new instructions against liturgical abuses, indicated Friday (April 23) that Sen. John Kerry should be refused Communion because he supports abortion rights. Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline […]

c. 2004 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY _ The Vatican’s highest authority on worship and the sacraments, issuing comprehensive new instructions against liturgical abuses, indicated Friday (April 23) that Sen. John Kerry should be refused Communion because he supports abortion rights.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, declined to comment directly on the case of the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, saying he considers it a matter for American bishops to decide.

“The norm of the church is clear. The Catholic Church exists in the United States, and there are bishops there. Let them interpret it,” he said in reply to a question at a Vatican news conference.

But, asked later if any politician, not Kerry in particular, “is known to take a pro-abortion stance, should a priest refuse him Communion,” Arinze replied with a flat “yes.”

Arinze said the instructions make clear that a person who “is not fit” should not receive Communion. “If he should not receive, then he shouldn’t be given,” he said. “Objectively the answer is there.”

Kerry, a Catholic who regularly attends Mass, has prompted threats of denied sacraments from some American bishops _ notably Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington is heading a task force to draft “best practices” for handling dissenting politicians.

Arinze cited paragraph 81 of the new “Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum on Certain Matters to Be Observed or to Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.”

“The Church’s custom shows that it is necessary for each person to examine himself at depth, and that anyone who is conscious of grave sin should not celebrate or receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession, except for grave reason when the possibility of confession is lacking,” the document said.

“In this case he will remember that he is bound by the obligation of making an act of perfect contrition, which includes the intention to confess as soon as possible.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which collaborated with Arinze’s office on the new instructions, warned Catholic politicians last year that they have “the right and the duty” to uphold church teachings on moral issues, including abortion.

Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the new guidelines. “There is no more important work than the care and attention we give the sacred liturgy. Fidelity to the liturgy, as given to us by the church, is fidelity to Christ,” he said.

The new instructions were prepared at the specific request of Pope John Paul II, who expressed concern in an encyclical on the Eucharist last year about “dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice” threatening to obscure the Eucharist.

A draft copy of the instruction circulated last September caused controversy by appearing to frown on altar girls. It said they should not be recruited “without a just pastoral cause; nor should priests ever feel obligated to call girls to this office.”

The final version calls the service of boys at the altar a “noble custom” that can lead to the priesthood, but it does not rule out altar girls. “Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan bishops and in observance of the established norms,” it says.

Arinze acknowledged that the new rules do not contain “new laws” but said they attempt to deal with “anxieties and perplexities” expressed to the Vatican by a number of Catholics.

Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the instruction is not a manifestation of any “nostalgia for the past but only the will to put liturgical reform and the Second Vatican Council into practice and to eliminate abuses that are against Catholic doctrine.”

The 76-page document contains 186 norms covering such aspects of the Eucharistic Mass as the composition of the bread (pure, unleavened wheat) and wine (pure and not sour fruit of the grape) and when (shortly before Communion) and how (soberly and only to those nearby) to exchange a sign of peace.

It says that only a priest may deliver the homily and that bishops may decide locally whether Communion is to be receiving kneeling or standing, on the tongue or in the hand.

The Mass “is not to be inserted in any way into the setting of a common meal” or linked to “political or secular events.” First Communions should not be held on Holy Thursday because, Arinze said, this would detract from the commemoration of the first Eucharist celebrated by Christ at the Last Supper.

Arinze said that the instruction, in effect, retains the church’s ban on Communion for Catholics who divorce and remarry, but he noted that they are encouraged to attend the Mass as part of the community of believers.

It also rules out concelebration or inter-Communion with non-Catholics. “The Mass is not an ecumenical celebration,” Arinze said. “Communion is not a personal possession that we give to our friends.“

DEA/PH END POLK